Real Kashmir FC’s co-owner Sandeep Chattoo had provided his players a lone mobile phone that would keep changing hands during the communication lockdown in the Valley following abrogation of Article 370 by the government.
Chattoo, who co-owns the club with Shamim Meraj, got his phone activated with “special permission”, and it was the only means through which the players could get in touch with their families in India and abroad.
“Sometimes the phone would ring at 3 am, calls would come from Zimbabwe, England and Nigeria,” Chattoo was quoted as saying by PTI.
In a lighter vein, Chattoo said the snapping of phone lines and internet services worked for his team ahead of its second season in top-flight football. “I would like to believe that it helped us a lot because with internet, they would spend too much time with their girlfriends,” Chattoo said.
“I am actually happy that all their energy was channelised towards our main goal – making sure that they win the league.”
Chattoo was speaking on the sidelines of the team’s jersey launch in the capital along with its partner, sportswear giant adidas. Kashmir has been a “home away from home” for RKFC coach David Robertson, the man behind the team’s rapid rise.
Chattoo doesn’t let go of an opportunity to praise his coach. “It has been so easy for him, his son is also here and is in his second year. His family keeps coming here. You can ask him how it is in Kashmir,” he said.
While a lot of credit goes to the work done by the owners, Chattoo said it is the coach, his family and the players who are showered with plenty of warmth by the locals in Srinagar.
“They are like heroes, they go to a shop and the shopkeeper doesn’t take money from them. That is the problem for them. They go to the bank and the bank manager says ‘why did you come here, we will come to the hotel’.
“The are treated like stars there. We don’t let them go alone because the auto guys will get hold of them and ask them for selfies. See, the team has brought a lot of positivity with its performance last year [they finished third in their first I-League season]. The thing we have done is something that is more than football.”
Barring the first three-four weeks in January 2017 – when he was hired – Robertson didn’t find staying in the valley difficult.
The Scot said: “The first few weeks were difficult, and I left, but they quickly persuaded me to come back. I would say that Real Kashmir is one of the best looked-after teams in the league. My family has lived here so they were not worried at all. My wife is in Aberdeen now so I went home for two weeks because the season was extended. I never feared for my life here.”
He added, “It’s a safe place and as soon as I go home, I feel like coming back here. It’s an emotional attachment.”
Chattoo said he is confident of conducting his side’s home matches of the upcoming I-League season in Srinagar. “We have unofficially been informed about our matches. We will be playing at home and 12th [December] is our first home game. You all are welcome. It has garnered us a mammoth fan base that we could not have imagined. We are thrilled as, with this support, we are sure that we can go on to win the League.”